More than 40% of children who were admitted to hospital after contracting COVID-19 experienced neurological complications, new research has revealed.

Academics from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have found that headaches and acute encephalopathy was present in 44% of children who were hospitalised with the coronavirus.

In addition, they discovered that children presenting signs of neurological symptoms were more at risk of being admitted to an intensive care unit compared to those who did not experience these symptoms.

Chief researcher, Dr Ericka Fink said: “The SARS-CoV-2 virus can affect paediatric patients in different ways: It can cause acute disease, where symptomatic illness comes on soon after infection, or children may develop an inflammatory condition called MIS-C weeks after clearing the virus.

“One of the consortium’s big questions was whether neurological manifestations are similar or different in paediatric patients, depending on which of these two conditions they have.”

During the study, the team of scientists examined the brain health of 1,278 hospitalised children with acute SARS-CoV-2 and 215 children in hospital with MIS-C, a rare complication of COVID-19.

They found that hospitalised children with both conditions experienced headaches, acute encephalopathy and in rarer cases eyesight problems, loss of smell, psychosis and strokes.

Dr Fink said: “Thankfully, mortality rates in children are low for both acute SARS-CoV-2 and MIS-C, but this study shows that the frequency of neurological manifestations is high, and it may actually be higher than what we found because these symptoms are not always documented in the medical record or assessable. For example, we can’t know if a baby is having a headache.

According to the findings, neurological symptoms appeared in more children with MIS-C than those with acute SARS-CoV-2.

The team now want to research whether both conditions have a continuous impact on children’s health once they are back home.

“Another long-term goal of this study is to build a database that tracks neurological manifestations over time – not just for SARS-CoV-2, but for other types of infections as well,” said Dr Fink.

She added: “Some countries have excellent databases that allow them to easily track and compare children who are hospitalized, but we don’t have such a resource in the U.S.”

The study has been published in the journal Pediatric Neurology.

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